The Walt Disney Concert Hall buckles and coils in metal and glass at the summit of Bunker Hill. Once a working class neighborhood and the setting for many of LA’s film noir classics, the community was leveled 40 years ago so prestigious cultural institutions and towers could be built for the western outposts of multinational banks and the Big 4 accounting firms.
But Los Angeles has always devoured her children. The area is now a shining city on the hill, the skyline we all recognize from our respective freeways, with gleaming reflections instead of residents and culture before community. It is the apex of corporate Los Angeles, where culture and commerce intersect. The Department of Water & Power keeps our lights on and taps flowing from its midcentury masterpiece and Eli Broad’s highly anticipated art museum opens soon, but no matter; Disney Hall remains Bunker Hill’s crown jewel, the creation of the elite and Frank Gehry, the adopted son the rest of the world knows.
And yet: Marxist readings aside, money and talent can still produce majesty. The building is a work of art, fusing a brilliant and iconic form with its highest intended function, to provide a world-class auditory experience. Walt Disney Hall gives us awe and acoustics in equal measure.
We were there to see several performances by the Calder Quartet, an electro string quartet, and Roomful of Teeth, an experimental group of eight vocalists “integrating elements of Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean, Georgian, Hindustani and Persian classical singing.” Jesus. There was also new work by Bryce Dessner, an acclaimed composer better known as the guitarist of the National, and Philip Glass, a legendary avant-gardist approaching his sixth decade of groundbreaking compositions. And of course the LA Philharmonic, led by Gustavo Dudamel, that guy with the crazy hair. Of course, no pictures were allowed during the performances. But if it’s the outside you come to see, the inside is where you go to listen.
In the end, Walt Disney Concert Hall isn’t all that different than Disneyland. There are the wide-eyed first timers like us and veterans with season passes, and it’s a lot more casual – Califormality – than the formal affairs of the East Coast venues. Art and entertainment have always gotten along better in LA than other cultural capitals. It is the Magic Kingdom for the moneyed set, offering highbrow entertainment clad in stainless steel. As long as you have a ticket, welcome to Haute Disneyland.